What automation toys are out there?

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Old 05-03-12, 12:27 PM
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What automation toys are out there?

It's been a while since I have looked into available home automation toys and tools. Now that we are in the house I expect we're staying in for a very, very long time, I'm back looking at what can make our lives easier and/or provide a solid ROI.
The last time I really played in home automation, the X10 systems where very new technology.

So based one the following descriptions, what is out there that might be of interest?

Our house is ~50 miles from my work, in a small town. It's a 1930's former nun convent at contains approximately 4100sqft of living space (~1360sqft infinished basement, Main and second floor ~1360sqft, 144sqft room in the attic with the rest of the attic open). We're a family of 4 (wife and I with two small children). The entire house and most of the 290ft x 96ft property has solid wifi coverage.
Heat is hotwater boiler with 2 t-stats seportating the basement/main and second floor/attic room.

Everything is pretty old school in the house, with the two t-stats being upgraded from manual controls to two cheap programmables.
 
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Old 05-03-12, 01:19 PM
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Everything has gone to the internet. Before you had to call in to your house, now you can control you home with your smart phone. If you have cameras around the house, you can now see what is happening at your house real time. I just heard the cable company advertise it.
 
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Old 05-04-12, 04:27 AM
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I pretty much figured that is the way things have gone.
I remember the good old days of using the WildCat BBS software as an interface to control anything a relay could turn on and off via the serial port.
From what I can see with the newer technologies, the ideas in home automation has not come too far in the last 10-15 years, only the methods of how we communicate with them.
Instead of running a number of relay boards via PC connected serial ports, things have moved to USB chips and wifi with solid state relays instead of the good old mechanical ones.

I am starting to plan out the automation of my new (to me) house. I suspect I may be able to save myself some R&D time with off the self products, but the battery limits with this house will force me to do a lot of custom work as well. The house as mentioned in another thread, is a 1930's nun convent, 3 stories plus unfinished basement. Total living space is just over 4100sqft. Oil burning hotwater boiler heat (natural gas not available), currently without AC. Local temperatures can/do range from -35'C to +35'C and power outages do occur on occation (a couple times a year, for up to half a day possible). City sewer, with a well water supply. Oh, and what ever is done, must be able to maintain the 1930's feel to the house.
 
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Old 05-05-12, 02:14 AM
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Wow. You're an old-schooler!

Caveat: Just like the old days in the 80's where a serial port would be used to switch SSRs, most digital "relays" are actually opto-isolators or TTLs that are better used to drive the coils of (mechanical) buffer relays that handle the loads. Virtually identical to the com port/mechanical relays, this scheme is still used all the time today to isolate the control system from the load.
 
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Old 05-08-12, 09:57 AM
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Mechanical coil relays are so much more satisfying. When things work, you get to hear the click and see the pins move...

Pretty much any of the equipment that I'll be automating (on/off switching) will be the same design as I had done in the past, but with USB decoders and PIC chips (that's my modernized upgrades :P ).

Based on the bit of research I have done (not a whole lot to be honest), home automation hasn't really gone as far as the "view of the furture" back in the 80's and 90's.
In reviewing what I have for a home, and what I need/want, I've pretty much settled on improving telecommunications with a cell signal booster system, and eventually installing the second access point in the house (when I get the cables finally run). A couple motion sensors for lights to make travel through the house easier will also be added.
All and all, pretty low tech as far as home automation.

Coming from a Process and Controls career and a background in telcom/IT, a dream setup would be to be able to monitor items remotely (web) such as boiler operations (water flow, temp, etc), various floor tempuratures, and maybe sump pump levels (% instead of "Good or flood").
Monitoring is something I haven't seen (besides cameras) and probably would be out of reach for home use (cost too much).
 
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Old 05-09-12, 04:47 AM
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You'd have to look at middleware such as ConnexAll to do everything you need. Unfortunately it's very expensive and requires annual maintenance fees. (Tens of thousands of dollars to start, and about 20% annually.) It also relies on the source devices to trigger its events. A boiler, for example, would have to be outfitted with sensors and relays.

Have a closer look at Crestron. Although we're a commercial company, we did one of our best customers a favor and installed a whole-house system in his new residence. It controls all lighting, 17 TVs, sound systems, HVAC, pool filter, boilers for the driveway/sidewalk ice melt system, and security video. Wireless touch-screen controllers are in wall docks around the house, and the owners can remote in through computers or iPhones. The tally was around $80,000, but as I said if you don't need the latest & greatest that gear is going used for pennies on the dollar.
 
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Old 05-09-12, 04:56 AM
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Rick Johnston,

What you describe is what I would have expected for a fully automated home of today.
That being said, I know what you mean about the cost of these systems. I work for an engineering firm, dealing particularly in the mining industry. My particular field of work is systems and process control which sees the equipment and automation you are talking about.

I think to achieve some home automation, without spending more then the house is worth, it'll take some creative thinking and maybe going back to the stuff I learned in school (many years ago).

You definately did give me a few new ideas to look at. The driveway de-icing would be sweet, but damn, my driveway is 100-125ft long. Might be a dream not coming true.

If you have any other cool ideas or things like that, post them up.
 
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